Trujill0. Cyberpunk done right.
When we think about the cyberpunk genre, there are usually only two cities where stories take place: New York and Tokyo. However, if there is a region in the world that is the closest to being an actual techno-decadent dystopia, it’s Latin America. Cities like my native Havana are a cyberpunk, urban horror fantasy of the Third World, in which a shoeless, shirtless child with a belly full of parasites is playing Candy Crush in an iPhone. He most surely lives in a one-room apartment with broken walls and access to running water only every three days. Shamans and healers charge hundreds of dollars to European tourists for reading their fortune and talking to the spirits of their ancestors, so they can afford to buy a laptop with good internet connection. Our streets, filled with graffiti art, loud music and prostitutes looking for a tourist are entering the digital lifestyle of the 21st century and keeping the same identity as before.
Comics like Trujill0 by the amazing Gustavo Vargas, represent that reality perfectly. The one-shot, published in the UK in 2017, tells the story of Xolo, a hacker and hustler living in futuristic Peru, who must steal important merchandise in order to pay a massive debt to the leader of a religious group who also acts as a local crime-boss. Described by its creator as “a comic about gangsters, shamans, drugs and dogs” Trujill0 takes us on a journey that mixes elements of Latin American indigenous culture with fascinating cyberpunk tropes in the best British comics tradition, making this a production worthy of being published in anthologies like 2000AD or Heavy Metal.
The art, by the hand of Vargas himself, is complex and simple at the same time, with character designs that remind us aesthetically of ancient Aztek warriors and elaborate scenarios with pre-Columbian religious imagery. The script is well written, it is a self-contained story leaving space for a sequel, with this comic being one of many stories the creator has set in this universe. The dialogue, even if it abuses my favourite 4-letter word to an extreme, is fitting for the themes presented and makes the characters immediately relatable for us. The action scenes are wonderful, Gustavo’s mastery of the sequential art shows off in his depictions of the fights our protagonists are involved in.
We got together with Gustavo Vargas in order to talk about his origins, inspirations, experience in the British comics circuit and future projects.
1- Where do you come from and how did that influence you as a creator?
I’m a Peruvian cartoonist based in UK. I lived most of my life in Lima, the capital that lies in the coast of Peru. It influenced me in so many aspects! From the cultural Inca and pre-Columbian heritage, to the streets and cuisine you see in Peru’s everyday life. It’s all a big package of flavours, colours, sounds and characters that when looking for inspiration and ideas I continue to explore as much as I can.
2- How did the idea for Trujill0 came to you?
The first idea came with the picturing of the first scene, this guy in front of a vehicle burning on flames. Following that I realized I wanted to do a crime story which turned out to be a gangbusters/gangster/drug related story. I’ve always had a big interest in Science Fiction, so I wanted it to be in that genre as well. I wanted to explore a story that was set in a not-so-distant future. Many things would have plenty of similarities with the actual Peru, but I would explore further and basically play around the world I was building. This way I could concentrate on themes that interested me and leave others on the side. After I set up the main plot, I wrote and designed the main character. Each character would call for more exploration and research and would keep on expanding this world.
3- Latin American culture is omnipresent throughout the comic, some would say it is the focus of the story. What are some traditions or themes that inspired you?
Yes, it’s the main place where I keep coming back to for more ideas, details, etc. First, I come up with an idea and then I look up any elements that will make it richer, it’s a give-and-take game. I do a lot of research reading news, stories, articles, magazines, and watching documentaries. It’s a bit like going to a city and embracing its culture, as if I was visiting and enjoying their kitchen and architecture and then spoke to the locals and learned their way of thinking, the politics of the area, and their relationships. It is all related and helps with world-building.
4- What do you think of the British comic movement? What are some differences that you see from the American and Latin American markets?
There’s little I know about American and Latin American markets. I just know a bit of the Peruvian market from my city, and some bits of the UK market.
The main difference I see between the Peruvian and UK markets is the industry and comic culture differences. There’s not a proper industry in Peru. There are fanzines and self-publishing in a very small scale, but almost no events or conventions to support these works. There’s more and more creators and bigger companies that are publishing local authors and there’s also been an increase in comics in libraries and book festivals. So, it’s growing for sure, but it is still on a small scale.
In the UK you have plenty of festivals throughout all the cities, and many artists, writers and authors of all types for many markets. There’s a big, friendly and welcoming community that allows a very healthy relationship among all the creators. There you also have small, medium and bigger publishers that bring everything together. If you add to all this the close relationship with the American market, you have a very active scene, full of possibilities big and small.
5- Animals have a major role in the comic. Was there any particular reason for it?
When I was writing the main plot, I came up with the idea of using bio-punk and cyborg animals. This decision made that extra twist that made me feel that the story was ready to be drawn. When researching Trujillo (a city in the coast of Peru), I decided to use these Peruvian hairless dogs in a warehouse attack instead of bike riders. It just made more sense for the story, and that lead to the use of guinea pigs for transporting organic drugs. I liked the end results very much, and it shaped and expanded a big part of this world.
6- Do you plan to tell more stories set in this universe?
Yes! At the moment I have 3 books: TRUJILL0, L1MA and MANU. L1MA is my second comic and is about Pirañas, Vultures, Robots and Mafias. The third Book is MANU, a Cyberpunk comic about monkeys, jaguars, cyborgs and a mystery. Both TRUJILLO and L1MA are one-shots, and MANU is the first volume of a 3 volume story. All the stories happen in the same universe. Trujillo and Lima are cities from the coast of Perú, while Manu is a national rainforest park in the jungle of Peru.
At the moment I’m working on MANU’s sequel, which is called PUNO, and it will be released later in 2020. This bigger project will even connect and cross paths with some characters that first appeared in TRUJILLO and L1MA.
You can download Trujill0 and other works by Gustavo Vargas at www.gustaffovargas.bigcartel.com
Daniel D. Calvo is a Cuban writer, editor, translator and comics journalist currently based in Pennsylvania, USA. He is a published author in both English and Spanish, having his work appear in anthologies, magazines and literary websites. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Konkret Comics, working on titles such as “Akolyte”, “Absolver” and “Odina”. His translation credits include books, comics and film. He is the head writer of Konkret Spotlight, featuring professional reviews and interviews with several figures from the indie comic world and other mediums. Among other ventures, his first creator-owned comic “Andy Starboy” is set to launch on 2020.